No shortage of wins amid Phillies' power shortage

Ryan Howard leads the Phillies with six home runs and 29 RBIs. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
Ryan Howard leads the Phillies with six home runs and 29 RBIs. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 06, 2011

Observations, insinuations, ruminations and unvarnished opinions:

 

THE CALLS USED to be, "Long drive . . . Watch that baby . . . outta here . . . "

Long balls defined the Phillies' persona. In a current lineup that presents just one certified home-run threat that persona has become non gratis.

The call most frequently emanating from the booth these days is on the order of, "Bouncer up the middle - just through for a base hit - and the runners move up a base."

Even fans seated behind the flower-bed trenches in left are safe. You've got a better chance to be impaled by a spear from a shattered bat in the expensive seats than by a bleacher-bound bomb.

Welcome to the Silent Spring. The loudest explosion heard many nights in The Bank, besides "USA, USA, USA . . . ," has not been baseballs barreled up by prodigious swings, rather baseballs thrown by a starting pitcher exploding into the abused mitts of Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider.

It is almost as if the Phillies traded in a 500 HP muscle car for one of those plug-in roller skates that go 75 miles on one charge and consume more electricity than a small village.

But, hey, I refuse to argue with 21-9.

After 30 games, a roster minus Chase Utley and dearly departed Jayson Werth - such a perfect fit here - has launched 26 homers, just 20 by guys not named Ryan Howard, who is coming off a prodigious RBI April. Kudos to the reinforcements, including No. 5 starter pro tem Vance Worley, hold righthander Michael Stutes and lefty specialist Antonio Bastardo, who have been live-armed upgrades. Worley has had dart shooter's command and his withering, lefty-hitter paralyzing front-door fastball appears to be on loan from the memory of Greg Maddux.

So, do you like the whiplash culture change from an offense that flogged a league-leading 224 homers and 820 runs in 2009 to an offense that was ranked, going into play last night, No. 11 in homers and No. 7 in runs?

The 2009 wrecking crew averaged 1.38 homers a game. The Dubee Brothers' offense, even after hitting two last night, is averaging 0.87. Runs? If the current anemia carries through the hot months ahead, the Phils would score 751 runs, 69 less than 2009.

Know what? That will probably be more than enough, particularly if Dom Brown comes up and makes a power contribution.

Chase's eternal

spring training

It is time for the Phillies to do what dads used to do to their kids in lieu of swimming lessons. OK, kid, close your eyes. Splash . . . Into the deep end. Sink or swim.

I'm sure the baseball big brains are aware of the potential perils of starting the playing phase of a Chase Utley spring training that is now in its third month. There are two extended groups - one composed of Williamsport hopefuls, the other facing the onrushing Hell of baseball's Devil's Island, the Gulf Coast League. They are in the middle of a 46-game "exhibition" schedule played against the extended squads of the Yankees and Pirates, with a couple of games against the Tigers. The rules are bent to accommodate necessity. Ten-player batting orders are normal, 11 not unusual. When Dom Brown was here for the first 10 days of his rehab, he was batting nearly every inning. The risk, of course, is that there are a lot of young pitchers down here who couldn't hit a cow in the butt with a handful of sand. Last thing Ruben Amaro would want is the already imperiled career of his All-Star second baseman put on another lengthy hold by a knee-capping.

So, simulated games using some of the more accurate Phillies' extended pitchers might be the prudent approach. Or, the mother of all knee armor.

Los bateadores

que no son muy grandes

No, the Phillies Academy-raised Latino batters are not very big. Dallas Green was saying that more than a decade ago, when the Phillies began to re-establish a Caribbean Rim presence. "We keep signing middle infielder-sized kids with no pop," he groused one afternoon. The Rays' Low A team was playing an exhibition on the Mike Schmidt Field against their Phillies counterparts. The size difference between the Tampa Bay Latinos and the Phillies Latinos was stark.

That has improved, of course. Domingo Santana, a 6-5, 200 pound outfielder built along the racehorse lines of Dom Brown, won't turn 19 until August. He is a third-year pro and is on the same fast track as Jonathan Singleton, last year's out-of-nowhere skyrocket. Singleton was an obscure teenager in extended spring training when he was promoted to Williamsport, then helped lead Lakewood to its second straight Sally League title. The kid has been battling nagging injuries since early spring training as he transitions from first base to leftfield. The organization's No. 2 ranked prospect does not appear overmatched at bat in the much tougher Florida State League. And Santana, very raw, but with oodles of ability, has yet to skyrocket at Lakewood, hitting just .229. I am posting a sleeper alert for Blue Claws third baseman Geancarlo Mendez. The 6-2 Dominican was signed as a pitcher, but wound up leading the Gulf Coast League in RBI last season and is currently batting .344 with an OPS of .877.

Soft toss trivia

Only six responders identified Cubs first baseman Phil Cavaretta as the man whose 21-year career was bracketed by both Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. So, in keeping with the minor league theme, this one is a hanging curve of triviality:

Name the All-Star from the 1970s and '80s who never played a minor league inning.

Send email to bill1chair@aol.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/BillConlin.

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